Our Unmedicated Natural Hospital Birth Story
All births are natural births. There is nothing more natural than a chid being brought into the world. It seems that is often lost by the label of “natural” commonly referring solely to unmedicated vaginal births, making many moms who are unable to have them disappointed to not have a “natural” experience. Before I dive into our unmedicated, natural birth- I want to share my experience with this leading up to the day Harper was born.
Our birth story started long before our trip to the hospital on the stormy evening of the Summer Solstice. It began when we discovered our baby was breeched at 37 weeks (read the full story here). This was the first junction when I realized our wish for an unmedicated birth may be out of our hands. It was difficult to wrap my head around an alternative birth plan, as baby was unlikely to flip at this point. After he shockingly flipped- against all odds, I again ran into a similar feeling when we went past our due date. My provider was pushing for a 41 week induction, which I knew would invite the cascade of interventions I was trying to avoid.
I realize that we were the lucky ones. The ones whose baby flipped from a breech position and whose labor began 48 hours before the doctor would push for an induction. We were the lucky ones whose hospital and provider followed the wishes of their birth plan. We were the lucky ones whose baby was born without complications. We were the lucky ones who didn’t have to walk away with the all too common birth trauma that many families experience. That is why l want to acknowledge that all births are natural and beautiful, not just experiences like ours. Let’s all agree that a baby miraculously being born is the most natural thing in the world, regardless of the circumstances.
The 7 Phases of My Unmedicated Natural Birth
Birth is a process and no two experiences are the same. I am going to walk you through the 7 phases of my experience: Prodromal Labor, Early Labor, Active Home Labor, Active Hospital Labor, Pushing, Birth and After Birth. I have decided to spill it all in an effort to avoid a birth story that glosses over the details and only shares the highlights. My goal is to normalize birth by discussing the more taboo parts that are often left out of the day to day conversation (yes, I talk about my tear, bleeding and first pee). Would love to hear any questions you have or your own birth experiences in the comments below!
Phase 1: Prodromal Labor
On Tuesday of the week Harper was born I went to acupuncture and asked for all the induction points. Now past his due date, I was anxious for anything that could help me avoid being medically induced. That night, I finally started to feel something! I had never felt any Braxton Hicks (practice contractions) during the pregnancy so I wasn’t sure if this was them or a sign of labor. Wednesday morning I still felt some crampiness and painless contractions. I went to my weekly scheduled doctor appointment and she told me it was probably prodromal labor, which was a good sign, but could come and go for an unpredictable length of time. Since I declined vaginal checks, I didn’t really have any other indications like dilation, etc.
Phase 2: Early Labor
After having the prodromal labor end and feeing nothing all day Thursday and Friday morning, I was careful not to get my hopes up when things started back up Friday afternoon. My parents who had come into town for his due date, a friend and I were hanging out at my mother in law’s pool when the crampiness set back in. I was unable to sleep a wink the night before and the exhaustion and cramps had me ready to crawl into bed, so I asked my parents to drive me home. As soon as I walked in the house and tried to relax, I suspected that something real might be happening. I texted our doula who said I probably had a while to go based on what I described and how calm I was. She told me to do the miles circuit and try to get some rest. I took what would I figured would be my last at home shower for a while and ate a bowl of granola to try to keep my energy up. When I laid down to try do the miles circuit and listen to my hypnobirthng meditation things began to feel more intense, so I asked our doula to come over ASAP.
Phase 3: Active Home Labor
By the time our doula came over, I was having to make a conscious effort to ride out and breathe through contractions. For the next couple of hours she led me in doing different positions for sets of contractions (i.e. 10 contractions in a wall sit). I had practiced holding similar positions in yoga while pregnant, which really helped. When each contraction intensified she would massage my lower back, distracting my body from the discomfort. I also held a lavender satchet during most of the labor and would inhale it during contractions, helping me relax. The setting couldn’t have been more peaceful, with me, Andrew, Logan (our dog) and our doula in our bedroom/bathroom with the sound of the most intense thunderstorm I’ve ever heard happening outside!
We knew it was time for the hospital when I began to be really get “in the zone” and couldn’t help but grunt and moan my way through the contractions. Our doula had always described that turning point, but I had thought that I wouldn’t be someone who was loud during labor… I was wrong! Everything about it felt out of body, primal and uncontrollable. Andrew called the doctors office to tell them we were on our way (something we wouldn’t have known to do without our doula!) and we grabbed all of our things.
Phase 4: Active Hospital Labor
I was scared to move from the comfort of our dark, peaceful bedroom to the car and hospital after hearing stories of labor being stalled and the body going into “fight or flight” under bright lights and stressful circumstances. Thankfully I didn’t experience any of that. It’s a weird feeling when you arrive at the hospital because your whole world is so intense and moving so fast, but everyone else is just chilling. People in the waiting room were staring at me as I could barely squeak out my social security number in between being doubled over through contractions.
Next thing I knew I was back in the hospital room. After quickly checking my vitals and monitoring baby, I was given a saline lock, then able to move freely without any further fetal monitoring or IVs, etc. since I wasn’t getting an epidural. The doctor let us know that I was 6 cm dilated and 90% effaced with my “water” (aka amniotic sac) still intact. My birth plan was to do things with the least amount of interventions possible, but I went in with an open mind ready to intuitively navigate the situation as it unfolded. I appreciated not being offered any sort of medication, as I requested, but was glad that our doctor did offer the intervention of breaking my water. After consulting with both her and our doula, I decided it was a go. Feeling exhausted already, I wanted anything that would help with the fastest possible, unmedicated birth. I couldn’t feel her break my water, just felt a warm liquid- really not bad at all. I remember looking at the clock around this time and seeing it was 9:30.
At that point the doctor and nurse left us alone to labor peacefully, so it was just Andrew, our doula and I in a dimly lit room with essential oils diffusing- definitely a relaxing hospital setting. As someone who is always cold, I have literally never been so hot! Andrew and our doula immediately began feeding me ice chips and putting a cold washcloth on my neck. The hospital active labor was a more intense version of what we were doing at home. Our doula helped me get through sets of contractions in various locations/positions. We moved from a birth ball to wall sits to squats in the shower, where I proceeded to go from hot to freezing cold! The best way I can describe my labor experience is a really intense workout class while being on insane drugs and turning into a wild animal! With each contraction I took long deep breaths in and heard myself letting out loud moans that felt really similar to the release of an “ohm” in yoga. Letting out energy through moans and even shrieks and screams really helped me deal with the intensity and discomfort.
Phase 5: Pushing
I could feel things growing much more intense and changing, so I requested to be checked again. I was surprised how uncomfortable being checked is and was glad I hadn’t done it during my pregnancy visits. Finally at 8 cm dilated, I was starting to feel really ready to get this done and meet our baby! I kept saying, “something is coming!” and “is the baby coming yet?!”. I felt a distinct change from just having contractions to actually feeling the baby coming down and ready to be pushed out of my body. I was disappointed that he wasn’t crowning yet despite how it felt, so I had to be patient and stay strong mentally and physically. I remember looking at the clock, seeing it was 11:15 and wondering if he’d be born before midnight.
At that point things start to get a little more blurry! I can’t remember how much time passed but know that eventually I was in bed. I was exhausted from the night before and really beginning to run low on energy. The doctor had discovered while checking me that I had a cervical lip (part of my cervix that was a little unevenly stuck). They brought me a peanut ball to put between my legs and lay in a fetal position. Laying there and being still had me more focused on the pain, but I breathed through it for a few more contractions knowing that getting baby in a better position would help in the long run.
Eventually they encouraged me to move to a squatting position (in bed) - think malasana squat with a bar to hang onto. With zero energy left, I tried to hang on and breathe through it as long as I could but eventually had to surrender to my body and let myself lay back and do what felt more comfortable.
Phase 6: Birth
I had planned on not pushing and wanted to wait for the fetal ejection reflex (when your body involuntarily pushes the baby out). When the time came, my brain and body seemed no longer connected and I was simply an observer as I felt myself pushing out the baby. It look about 4-5 pushes, with the most difficult being the second to last push. He was almost out and they told me I just needed a few good last pushes. As my body pushed, I let out the most blood curdling shriek as my pelvic floor muscles tore open to let baby out.
Thankfully the natural oxytocin kicked in and I was able to get through one final push that brought our beautiful Harper Benjamin Earthside at 11:54PM. I have never felt and can’t even describe the full body relief that comes with birthing a baby. All of the intense pressure that had been building for months, the physical, emotional and spiritual build up was instantaneously released.
Phase 7: After Birth
The cord leading to him was literally glowing- I had never seen anything so cool. It was blue and shiny and looked like a Unicorn horn. I was in complete shock for a few minutes. There was a pause where I felt nothing and then everything was hazy and in slow motion. I don’t remember seeing him until he was on my chest and they announced, “it’s a boy!” (so glad we have a few video clips our doula took so I can remember this!).
They asked what his name was and though Harper Benjamin was the top of our list, we needed a few minutes to figure out if it felt right! Meanwhile, the post-baby process of birth began to unfold. Birth isn’t over after the baby comes out- the placenta still needs to be delivered. This came easily for me, which I know is not always the case. I don’t even remember noticing it happen. On the other hand, I clearly remember the doctor stitching up my second degree tear. Both the push that tore me and the stitching was by far the most uncomfortable part of the whole labor and birth- but nothing I couldn’t handle! I flinched and yelped as she realized that the local anesthetic she injected before stitching must not have taken care of the whole area- OUCH.
Though the birth was over, I had to stay in the labor and delivery room for 3 more hours because of some moderate bleeding. My labor and birth were unmedicated, however I gladly accepted a shot of pitocin to help stop the bleeding. I winced as the doctor and nurses pressed on my uterus to push out any clots. Fortunately, the nurse who came in next (coincidentally one of my amazing former students!) realized that if I probably had a full bladder, making it painful for them to push on my uterus. She was right (peeing wasn’t exactly on my mind during labor!) and took me to empty my bladder. Lets just say that acid + wounds + being completely unmedicated = not my favorite pee i’ve ever taken… but the uterus pressing became way more comfortable after.
Around this time, our doula helped me try to nurse Harper for the first time. This didn’t work out very well and I actually blacked it out- I only slightly recalled when she recently told me about this moment. She suggested I contact the lactation consultant I had met during pregnancy to have her come right away the next morning (another reason doulas are a must!). This experience and more on our breastfeeding challenges will be a future blog post!
Around 3 am, our nurse wheeled us to the recovery room where we quickly said hi to our parents who waited up to meet Harper. Next the nurses checked his vitals and discovered that his temperature had dropped. They wanted to put him under the heating lamps in the nursery, but I told them that I wanted to warm him via skin to skin. They advised that I try for a half hour, but if he wasn’t warm then he would need to go to the nursery (though they can’t actually say you “need” to do anything- it is always your choice!). Sure enough, he warmed right up on my chest, where he has basically been living for the past 8 weeks!